Apocalypse of Peter
The recovered Apocalypse of Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

or Revelation of Peter is an example of a simple, popular early Christian
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 text of the 2nd century; it is an example of Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians....

 with Hellenistic
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 overtones. The text is extant in two incomplete versions of a lost Greek original, one Koine Greek
Koine Greek
Koine Greek is the universal dialect of the Greek language spoken throughout post-Classical antiquity , developing from the Attic dialect, with admixture of elements especially from Ionic....

, and an Ethiopic
Ge'ez language
Ge'ez is an ancient South Semitic language that developed in the northern region of Ethiopia and southern Eritrea in the Horn of Africa...

 version, which diverge considerably. The Greek manuscript was unknown at first hand until it was discovered during excavations directed by Sylvain Grébaut during the 1886-87 season in a desert necropolis
A necropolis is a large cemetery or burial ground, usually including structural tombs. The word comes from the Greek νεκρόπολις - nekropolis, literally meaning "city of the dead"...

 at Akhmim
Akhmim is a city in the Sohag Governorate of Upper Egypt. Referred to by the ancient Greeks as Khemmis, Chemmis and Panopolis, it is located on the east bank of the Nile, 4 miles to the northeast of Sohag.- History :Akhmim was known in Ancient Egypt as Ipu, Apu or Khent-min...

 in Upper Egypt. The fragment consisted of parchment
Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin, often split. Its most common use was as a material for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. It is distinct from leather in that parchment is limed but not tanned; therefore, it is very...

 leaves of the Greek version that had been carefully deposited in the grave of a Christian monk of the 8th or 9th century. The manuscript is in the Egyptian Museum
Egyptian Museum
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Egyptian Museum, in Cairo, Egypt, is home to an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. It has 120,000 items, with a representative amount on display, the remainder in storerooms....

 in Cairo. The Ethiopic version was discovered in 1910.

Before that, the work had been known only through copious quotes in early Christian writings. In addition, some common lost source had been necessary to account for closely parallel passages in such apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians....

 as the (Christian) Apocalypse of Esdras, the Vision of Paul
Apocalypse of Paul
The Apocalypse of Paul is a 4th-century text of the New Testament apocrypha. There is an Ethiopic version of the Apocalypse which features the Virgin Mary in the place of Paul the Apostle, as the receiver of the vision, known as the Apocalypse of the Virgin...

, and the Passion of Saint Perpetua.


The terminus post quem — the point after which the Apocalypse of Peter was written — is revealed by its use of 4 Esdras, which was written about 100 AD; it is used in Chapter 3 of the Apocalypse. The intellectually simple Apocalypse of Peter, with its Hellenistic Greek overtones, belongs to the same genre as the Clementine literature
Clementine literature
Clementine literature is the name given to the religious romance which purports to contain a record made by one Clement of discourses...

 that was popular in Alexandria. Like the Clementine literature, the Apocalypse of Peter was written for a popular audience and had a wide readership. The Muratorian fragment
Muratorian fragment
The Muratorian fragment is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of the books of the New Testament. The fragment, consisting of 85 lines, is a 7th-century Latin manuscript bound in an eighth or 7th century codex that came from the library of Columban's monastery at Bobbio; it contains internal...

, the earliest existing list of canonic sacred writings of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, which is assigned on internal evidence to the last quarter of the 2nd century (i.e., c. 175-200), gives a list of works read in the Christian churches that is similar to the modern accepted canon; however, it also includes the Apocalypse of Peter. The Muratorian fragment states: "the Apocalypses also of John and Peter only do we receive, which some among us would not have read in church." The Muratorian fragment is ambiguous whether both books of Revelations were meant as not received, or just Peter's. (It is interesting that the existence of other Apocalypses is implied, for several early apocryphal ones are known: see Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians....

.) Scholar Oscar Skarsaune makes a case for dating the composition to the Bar Kochba revolt (132-136).


The Apocalypse of Peter is framed as a discourse of the Risen Christ to his faithful, offering a vision first of heaven, and then of hell, granted to Peter
Saint Peter
Saint Peter or Simon Peter was an early Christian leader, who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The son of John or of Jonah and from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee, his brother Andrew was also an apostle...

, the favourite figure of the emerging mainstream Church (as opposed to James the Just
James the Just
James , first Bishop of Jerusalem, who died in 62 AD, was an important figure in Early Christianity...

, favourite of the Jewish Christians). In the form of a nekyia
In ancient Greek cult-practice and literature, a nekyia is a "rite by which ghosts were called up and questioned about the future," i.e., necromancy. A nekyia is not necessarily the same thing as a katabasis...

it goes into elaborate detail about the punishment in hell for each type of crime, later to be depicted by Hieronymus Bosch, and the pleasures given in heaven for each virtue.
In heaven, in the vision,
  • People have pure milky white skin, curly hair, and are generally beautiful
  • The earth blooms with everlasting flowers and spices
  • People wear shiny clothes made of light, like the angels
  • Everyone sings in choral prayer

The punishments in the vision each closely correspond to the past sinful actions in a version of the Jewish notion of lex talionis, an "eye for an eye"
Eye For An Eye
Eye for an Eye is a Polish hardcore punk rock band founded in 1997 in Bielsko-Biała. EFAE, as it is also known, plays an old school style of punk, more along the veins of The Exploited or even, some say, Agnostic Front. The punk stylings of EFAE has been compared to fellow countrymen Post Regiment,...

, that the punishment may fit the crime. Some of the punishments in hell according to the vision include:
  • Blasphemers are hung by the tongue.
  • Women who "adorn" themselves for the purpose of adultery, are hung by the hair over a bubbling mire. The men that had adulterous relationships with them are hung by their feet, with their heads in the mire, next to them).
  • Murderers and those that give consent to murder are set in a pit of creeping things that torment them.
  • Men who take on the role of women in a sexual way, and lesbians, are "driven" up a great cliff by punishing angels, and are "cast off" to the bottom. Then they are forced up it, over and over again, ceaselessly, to their doom.
  • Women who have abortions are set in a lake formed from the blood and gore from all the other punishments, up to their necks. They are also tormented by the spirits of their unborn children, who shoot a "flash of fire" into their eyes.
  • Incidentally, those unborn children are "delivered to a care-taking" angel by whom they are educated, and "made to grow up."
  • Those who lend money and demand "usury upon usury" stand up to their knees in a lake of foul matter and blood.

"The Revelation of Peter shows remarkable kinship in ideas with the Second Epistle of Peter. It also presents notable parallels to the Sibylline Oracles
Sibylline oracles
The Sibylline Oracles are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the Sibyls, prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state. Fourteen books and eight fragments of Sibylline Oracles survive...

 while its influence has been conjectured, almost with certainty, in the Acts of Perpetua and the visions narrated in the Acts of Thomas and the History of Barlaam and Josaphat. It certainly was one of the sources from which the writer of the Vision of Paul drew. And directly or indirectly it may be regarded as the parent of all the mediaeval visions of the other world."

The Gospel parable
A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human...

s of the budding fig tree and the barren fig tree, partly selected from the parousia
Second Coming
In Christian doctrine, the Second Coming of Christ, the Second Advent, or the Parousia, is the anticipated return of Jesus Christ from Heaven, where he sits at the Right Hand of God, to Earth. This prophecy is found in the canonical gospels and in most Christian and Islamic eschatologies...

of Matthew 24, appear only in the Ethiopic version (ch. 2). The two parables are joined, and the setting "in the summer" has been transferred to "the end of the world", in a detailed allegory
Allegory is a demonstrative form of representation explaining meaning other than the words that are spoken. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation...

 in which the tree becomes Israel and the flourishing shoots, Jews who have adopted Jesus as Messiah and achieve martyrdom.

There is also a highly contentious section which explains that in the end God will save all sinners from their plight in Hell:
"My Father will give unto them all the life, the glory, and the kingdom that passeth not away, ... It is because of them that have believed in me that I am come. It is also because of them that have believed in me, that, at their word, I shall have pity on men... "http://www.archive.org/details/apocryphalnewtes027548mbphttp://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/apoc/apcpete.htmhttp://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-mrjames.html

Thus, sinners will finally be saved by the prayers of those in heaven. Peter then orders his son Clement not to speak of this revelation since God had told Peter to keep it secret:
[and God said]"... thou must not tell that which thou hearest unto the sinners lest they transgress the more, and sin."http://www.archive.org/details/apocryphalnewtes027548mbphttp://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/apoc/apcpete.htmhttp://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-mrjames.html

Career of the Apocalypse of Peter

Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

 appears to have considered the Apocalypse of Peter to be holy scripture. Eusebius
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

, Historia Ecclesiae
Church History (Eusebius)
The Church History of Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea was a 4th-century pioneer work giving a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity from the 1st century to the 4th century. It was written in Koine Greek, and survives also in Latin, Syriac and Armenian manuscripts...

(VI.14.1), describes a lost work of Clement's, the Hypotyposes (Outlines), that gave "abridged accounts of all the canonical Scriptures, not even omitting those that are disputed, I mean the book of Jude
Epistle of Jude
The Epistle of Jude, often shortened to Jude, is the penultimate book of the New Testament and is attributed to Jude, the brother of James the Just. - Composition :...

 and the other general epistles. Also the Epistle of Barnabas
Epistle of Barnabas
The Epistle of Barnabas is a Greek epistle containing twenty-one chapters, preserved complete in the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus where it appears at the end of the New Testament...

 and that called the Revelation of Peter." So the work must have existed in the first half of the 2nd century, which is also the commonly accepted date of the canonic Second Epistle of Peter
Second Epistle of Peter
The Second Epistle of Peter, often referred to as Second Peter and written 2 Peter or in Roman numerals II Peter , is a book of the New Testament of the Bible, traditionally ascribed to Saint Peter, but in modern times NT scholars regard it as pseudepigraphical.It is the first New Testament book...

Although the numerous references to it attest to its being once in wide circulation, the Apocalypse of Peter was ultimately not accepted into the Christian canon
Biblical canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example...

. Thus the disappearance of every single manuscript of the work is perhaps not entirely coincidental.

The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter

Another text, given the modern title the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter, not to be confused with the Apocalypse of Peter, is a text found amongst the Nag Hammadi library, and part of the New Testament apocrypha. Like the vast majority of texts in the Nag Hammadi collection, it is heavily gnostic. It was probably written around 100-200 AD...

, was found in the Nag Hammadi library
Nag Hammadi library
The Nag Hammadi library is a collection of early Christian Gnostic texts discovered near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. That year, twelve leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar were found by a local peasant named Mohammed Ali Samman...


The Ru'ya Butrus

There are more than 100 manuscripts of an Arabic Christian work entitled the Ru'ya Butrus, which is Arabic for the 'Vision' or 'Apocalypse' of Peter. Additionally, as catalogues of Ethiopic manuscripts continue to be compiled by William MacComber and others, the number of Ethiopic manuscripts of this same work continue to grow. It is critical to note that this work is of colossal size and post-conciliar provenance, and therefore in any of its recensions it has minimal intertextuality with the Apocalypse of Peter, which is known in Greek texts. Further complicating matters, many of the manuscripts for either work are styled as a "Testament of Our Lord" or "Testament of Our Savior". Further, the southern-tradition, or Ethiopic, manuscripts style themselves "Books of the Rolls", in eight supposed manuscript-rolls.

In the first half of the 20th century, Sylvain Grebaut published a French translation, without Ethiopic text, of this monumental work. A little later, Alfons Mingana published a photomechanical version and English translation of one of the monumental manuscripts in the series Woodbrooke Studies. At the time, he lamented that he was unable to collate his manuscript with the translation published by Grebaut. That collation, together with collation to some manuscripts of the same name from the Vatican Library, later surfaced in a paper delivered at a conference in the 1990s of the Association pour l'Etudes des Apocryphes Chretiennes. There seem to be two different "mega-recensions", and the most likely explanation is that one recension is associated with the Syriac-speaking traditions, and that the other is associated with the Coptic and Ethiopic/Ge'ez traditions. The "northern" or Syriac-speaking communities frequently produced the manuscripts entirely or partly in karshuni, which is Arabic written in a modified Syriac script.

Each "mega-recension" contains a major post-conciliar apocalypse that refers to the later Roman and Byzantine emperors, and each contains a major apocalypse that refers to the Arab caliphs. Of even further interest is that some manuscripts, such as the Vatican Arabo manuscript used in the aforementioned collation, contains no less than three presentations of the same minor apocalypse, about the size of the existing Apocalypse of John, having a great deal of thematic overlap, yet quite distinct textually.

Textual overlaps exist between the material common to certain Messianic-apocalyptic material in the Mingana and Grebaut manuscripts, and material published by Ismail Poonawalla.
The manuscripts having the "Book of the Rolls" structure generally contain a recension of the well-known "Treasure Grotto" text. The plenary manuscripts also generally contain an "Acts of Clement" work that roughly corresponds to the narrative or "epitome" story of Clement of Rome, known to specialists in pseudo-Clementine literature. Finally, some of the plenary manuscripts also contain "apostolic church order" literature; a collation of that has also been presented at a conference of the Association pour l'Etudes des Apocryphes Chretiennes.

Collations of these manuscripts can be daunting, because a plenary manuscript in Arabic or Ethiopic/ Ge'ez is typically about 400 pages long, and in a translation into any modern European language, such a manuscript will come to about 800 pages.

Overall, it may be said of either recension that the text has grown over time, and tended to accrete smaller works. There is every possibility that the older portions that are in common to all of the major manuscripts will turn out to have recensions in other languages, such as Syriac, Coptic, Church Armenian, or Old Church Slavonic. Work on this unusual body of medieval near eastern Christianity is still very much in its infancy.

Further reading

External links

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